Thursday, January 30, 2014
What Williams will bring to Rams' defense
By Nick Wagoner and Mike Triplett
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams and Gregg Williams have agreed to a deal to make Williams the team's defensive coordinator.
It's a move two years in the making after Williams originally accepted the same role in 2012 but never did the job after serving a suspension for his role in the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints.
Williams served as a defensive consultant for the Tennessee Titans in 2013 but technically hasn't been a defensive coordinator for a game since his time in New Orleans.
There will be no sweeping changes in terms of the general defensive philosophy but Williams will certainly add his own flavor. To get a handle on how we got here and what Williams brings to the table, ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett discussed the move.
Wagoner: Mike, it's been a long, strange trip to get to this point where Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams can finally reunite. You were there during the ups and downs of Williams' time in New Orleans. First, what are some of the things he can bring to the table from solely a coaching perspective?
Gregg Williams, a senior defensive assistant with the Titans this past season, will preach an aggressive style of play as Rams defensive coordinator.
Triplett: Williams made a huge impact on the Saints -- especially in his first year in 2009. For one thing, he was a creative and versatile coordinator who was great at tailoring his defense around players' individual strengths. One example that stands out most was the way he made safety Roman Harper into a two-time Pro Bowler by using him as a frequent blitzer and pseudo-linebacker. Williams would also mix and match between a 4-3 and 3-4. His most famous example was the Super Bowl win over Indianapolis and Peyton Manning when he had different plans for the first half, the third quarter and the fourth quarter.
What stood out even more was the way Williams lit a fire under his players as a passionate leader and motivator. And he noticeably instilled confidence in them. He brought a lot of the same qualities in his first season that we talked about this past year with Rob Ryan. Obviously you can't ignore the bounty scandal, though, when describing those traits because Williams took it to such extremes.
Do you think it was hard for Fisher to make this move with the bounty scandal still so fresh in Williams' past?
Wagoner: In all honesty, I was under the impression that this ship had sailed. Fisher was hesitant to even talk about Williams during the week leading up to the Titans game this season and he fired Williams' son, Blake. But apparently their friendship survived all of those things or they were at least able to reconcile enough to give it another go. When Williams first got suspended, Fisher seemed to be a bit taken aback by it. I wondered if Williams didn't provide all of the information. It put the Rams in something of a difficult spot that first season. The timing of all this seems a bit strange because Williams shook loose from Tennessee a while ago. I wonder how much time has been spent working out the details. At the end of the day, this was clearly what Fisher wanted all along so perhaps now the Rams can finally have some stability at defensive coordinator.
You mentioned the bounty scandal. One thing that raises a red flag with this hire is the lack of discipline the Rams had in 2013. They drew a lot of silly penalties. That's always been a part of Fisher teams and it doesn't seem Williams' style will do much to harness that. What were your impressions of his ability to walk the line between instilling discipline in his players while not taking away their edge?
Triplett: I don't ever remember penalties being a big problem with the Saints. In fact, many people pointed out during the bounty debate that the Saints had one of the league's least-penalized defenses during Williams' tenure. But I still think that's probably a fair concern since I wouldn't exactly characterize Williams as "disciplined." He wants to create big plays, and he blitzed a ton while he was in New Orleans. And sometimes that gambling nature led to breakdowns and big plays for the offense. It worked wonders in 2009, when the Saints led the NFL in combined turnovers in the regular season and postseason. But they had playoff blowups at Seattle and San Francisco the next two years.
The same goes for big hits, obviously. Williams saw the value in what he always called "remember me" shots, and sometimes that led to unnecessary roughness penalties. But it was never a case of the Saints playing "dirty" on defense or taking cheap shots to hurt guys. The philosophy was to be aggressive as possible within the rules (though the reward program was where they went too far).
You'll see that philosophy on display right away during summer practices. The defensive guys will annoy the offense by constantly swatting at the ball and trying to pry it loose and diving on every ball that hits the turf. And you'll hear Williams shouting often. The energy level will be unmistakable.
Wagoner: It should be a good thing for the Rams to have some stability at the position, finally. One more thing while I've still got you. One area that drove Rams fans nuts this year was a commitment to a lot of "off" coverage with corners playing soft zones. It would seem Williams doesn't abide by that approach. Can you shed some light on his approach to coverage schemes and how it might alter the type of players for the secondary the Rams will be looking for this offseason?
Triplett: You're right. His corners played a ton of man-to-man coverage in New Orleans -- often times pressing -- while doing a lot of blitzing. But I'm not sure that's always his approach. It's just how he decided to do things in New Orleans since he trusted the defensive backs' ability to cover more than the front four's ability to generate pressure without blitzing.
When he was here, he had corners like Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter and safeties like Darren Sharper and Malcolm Jenkins, who all played very well during those years. Greer and Porter weren't very big or physical, so he doesn't necessarily require a big, physical corner. But he'd obviously like to find guys he can trust in man coverage.
Wagoner: There's no doubting the move makes sense for the Rams. Given the caliber of defenses the Rams face in the NFC West division, Williams' hire should help nudge them toward the elite status necessary to close the gap on Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona.